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Sunscreen Penetration of Human Skin and Related Keratinocyte Toxicity after Topical Application

Hayden C.G.J.a · Cross S.E.a · Anderson C.b · Saunders N.A.c · Roberts M.S.a
aTherapeutics Research Unit, University of Queensland, Southern Clinical School, University of Queensland, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane; bDepartment of Dermatology, Liverpool Health Service, Liverpool, and cEpithelial Pathobiology Group, Centre for Immunology and Cancer Research, University of Queensland, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Australia Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol 2005;18:170–174 (DOI:10.1159/000085861)


Sunscreen skin penetration and safety assessment should be considered together in order to ensure that in vitro cytotoxicity studies examine relevant doses of these organic chemical UV filters to which viable epidermal cells are realistically exposed. In this study, we sought to determine whether sufficient topically applied sunscreens penetrated into human viable epidermis to put the local keratinocyte cell populations at risk of toxicity. The penetration and retention of five commonly used sunscreen agents (avobenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, oxybenzone and padimate O) in human skin was evaluated after application in mineral oil to isolated human epidermal membranes. Sunscreen concentration–human keratinocyte culture response curves were then defined using changes in cell morphology and proliferation (DNA synthesis using radiolabelled thymidine uptake studies) as evidence of sunscreens causing toxicity. Following 24 h of human epidermal exposure to sunscreens, detectable amounts of all sunscreens were present in the stratum corneum and viable epidermis, with epidermal penetration most evident with oxybenzone. The concentrations of each sunscreen found in human viable epidermis after topical application, adjusting for skin partitioning and binding effects, were at least 5-fold lower, based on levels detected in viable epidermal cells, than those appearing to cause toxicity in cultured human keratinocytes. It is concluded that the human viable epidermal levels of sunscreens are too low to cause any significant toxicity to the underlying human keratinocytes.


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